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Identify when India, Pakistan, Bhutan, Nepal, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and the Central Asian republics first became independent countries and explain how independence was achieved. Explain the relationship of the Central Asian republics to the former Soviet Union.
Britain's holdings on the Indian subcontinent were granted independence in 1947 and 1948, becoming four new independent states: India, Burma (now Myanmar), Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), and Pakistan (including East Pakistan, modern-day Bangladesh
Focus Question: How did the countries of Central Asia achieve independence colonial rule?
For historical information on India before 1800, see World History
For historical information on India in the 19th and 20th centuries, see World History
Timeline: A Brief History of India's Caste System
The Caste System: Effects of Poverty on India, Nepal and Sri Lanka
. Jasmine Rao, Global Majority e-Journal, 2010.
The Breakup of Empires
Both South Asia and Central Asia have the political geography they have today because of the break up of an empire.
South Asia was once part of the British Empire, about which it was once said “the sun never sets on the British Empire” because it covered so much of the globe. After World
Flag of India
War II, Britain was weakened to the point of not being able to maintain as much of its territory as it was able to before the war.
Jawaharlal Nehru, circa 1927
That increased weakness, combined with a 20+ year freedom effort by activists in
—including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru—led to the independence of India in 1947.
As so often happens with the end of colonial rule or the independence or partition of nations (see the former Yugoslavia as an example, or the nations of South America after independence from Spain, or modern-day Zimbabwe),
saw internal conflict after independence.
Members of the dominant religious groups—Muslims and Hindus—were at odds over how to form the new government and run the new country. Muslims wanted their own state. Gandhi was against this.
Flag of Pakistan
Flag of Bangladesh
In the end, the country was split in two, with the formation of
to the north.
split off from
, the result of a war between India and its northern neighbor. (More on the India-Pakistan split below).
for a timeline on Bangladesh
, independent since 1948 (as Ceylon; changing to Sri Lanka in 1972), remains in turmoil, with the group called the “Tamil Tigers” waging an on-again off-again civil war in the island nation.
for a timeline on Sri Lanka
was only partially ruled by the British, which ran the small nation’s international affairs but left Bhutan to govern itself internally through a treaty signed in 1910. Bhutan had earlier ceded some land to British India. India took over the international affairs of Bhutan after Indian independence. Currently a monarchy, Bhutan is transitioning to democratic rule.
for a timeline on Bhutan
has been independent for thousands of years. The monarchy added a cabinet set up to advise the monarch in 1951, and parliamentary elections were started in 1991. Ten years later, the ruling family’s oldest son, the crown prince, massacred many members of the royal family and then killed himself. The next year, in 2002, the new king dismissed the prime minister and parliament for incompetence, but reinstated the parliament in 2006 after internal unrest. Maoist insurgents have led much of that unrest.
for a timeline on Nepal.
Central Asian nations
that were once part of the Soviet Union all gained independence in the early 1990s with the breakup of the USSR. In United States classrooms up to that point, these places called “Uzbekistan” and “Kyrgyzstan” were hardly known or discussed at all. “The Soviet Union” evoked images of pale white people in snowstorms wearing fur hats. Either that, or looming and somber pictures of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev on the evening news, cast as Ronald Reagan’s arch nemesis. The truth of the Soviet Union was something much more, and the emergence of the central Asian nations from behind the iron curtain revealed a diverse, lively, and distinct group of people with their own cultures and traditions—looking far more like Chinese people than the pale, uniform stereotype put forth until that time. While most governments in this region are far from what we would call democracies, they are now self-governed by their own people, not from leaders in Moscow who were, literally, governing from an entirely different continent.
[Written by Erica Winter, December 2008; mostly no specific direct source beyond general knowledge. Information on Bhutan and Nepal, and dates of independence, checked or found on
More Info on Central Asian Nations
Became part of Russian Empire in 1876. Soviet power was established in the area in 1918, after the Russian Revolution in 1917. In December of 1936 was established as full Union Republic of the USSR. In December of 1990, after the Democratic movement gained power in Parliament and Askar Akayev introduced reforms, the Supreme Soviet voted to make it the Republic of Kyrgyzstan. In 1991, Akayev resigned from the Communist Party. Gained full independence from USSR on August 31, 1991. Became part of the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991.
for a timeline of Kyrgyzstan
Part of the Russian Empire in 19th century. Was briefly independent from 1918 to 1921, following the Russian Revolution. Was "forcibly incorporated" into the USSR after an invasion by the Red Army in 1921. Independence gained after the collapse of the USSR in 1991, when Georgians voted for independence.
for a timeline of Georgia
Came under Russia rule during the 1860's and 1870's. Russia's hold was weakened during the 1917 Revolution that put the Bolsheviks in power. Bolshevik control was gained in Tajikistan in 1925. Became independent following the break up of the USSR in 1991. Civil war followed from 1992-1997.
for a timeline of Tajikistan
Annexed by Russia between 1865 and 1885. Became a Soviet Republic in 1924. Declared sovereignty in 1990. Achieved full independence upon the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Became a member of the Commonwealth of Independent States in December of 1991.
for a timeline on Turkmenistan
Taken over by Russia in the late 19th century. Showed some resistance to the Red Army during WWI, but this was suppressed and a Socialist Republic was established in 1924. Overuse of agrochemicals left the land poisoned. The Aral Sea and rivers were left partially dry due to water depletion. In 1990 declared own laws and sovereignty. Independence was gained in 1991 with the collapse of the USSR. In December of 1991, joined the Commonwealth of Independent States.
for a timeline on Uzebekistan
History of fighting against Persians and the British. From 1839 to 1842 Britain installed a puppet king. Afghanistan served as a buffer between the British and Russian Empires. Gained independence from British control in 1914. The Soviet Union invaded in 1979 to back the Afghan Communist regime. Did not withdraw until 1989. The Taliban gained control in 1994 and remained in power until the United States intervened after the events of September 11, 2001. First democratic Presidential held in 2004, Hamid Karzai won the presidency.
for a timeline on Afghanistan
Afghanistan: People, Places and Politics
from PBS Newshour (2009).
For more on modern-day American involvement, see
United States History II.33
for a packet on independence on Southeastern Asia
India Pakistan Partition
The Other Side of Silence: Voices from the Partition of India by Urvashi Butalia
The Great Partition: The Making of India and Pakistan by Yasmin Khan
Select Research Bibliography on the Partition of India
The Road to Partition 1939-1947
Partition in the Classroom: Differentiated Strategies for Teaching India's Partition
for a lesson plan from PBS on the India Pakistan Partition. Designed for 9-12 grades but can be adapted for lower grades
for a lesson plan on India and England's control of the country
Partition: The Day India Burned
Partition: The Day India Burned
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